The tiny bed-sit was on the second floor of a decaying East London property. The boards were bare, the furniture shoddy, the walls grimy and black with mould. In the hearth, glowing embers stoked the stench of poverty while battling against the winter chill.
By the light of an oil lamp, Beth McBride and her two guests, Winifred, and Win's fiancé, Dr. Amos, were gathered around a small table. Beth was supping her first glass of port in six weeks, relishing the buzz of alcohol. Jail had been a nightmare. Now that it was over, she intended to make up for lost time by getting drunk; very, very drunk.
But first, she had a bone to pick with her young protégé.
"Here, Win," she began. "The landlord tells me you spent the last six weeks comin' in and out of my little bed-sit like a fiddler's elbow. Is that true?"
Win threw Dr. Amos a glance but said nothing.
"'Cause if it is true," Beth went on, "and I hears you been treating the place like a knocking shop while I was locked up, I'll roast you on a spit till your eyes pop out. Got that, girl?"
"Why you cheeky cow," Win retorted, angrily. "I don't need to use this hovel. I've got my own…"
Outside, a scream pierced the night; short and shrill. A dog barked. It was a feeble, half-hearted effort, and soon the hound fell silent, perhaps wisely conserving its energy for the long night ahead.
Dr. Amos rose from his chair. In his mid-thirties, he was of medium height and build, with intelligent eyes and dark features. Moving quickly to the window, he seemed oddly out of character with the surroundings. He wiped away the condensation with a gloved hand, pausing to peer through the opaque glass at the narrow, poorly-lit streets of East London.
"See anything?" Beth asked.
"What, on the night before Christmas?" He shook his head. "Even the chestnut seller on the corner of Dorset Street seems to have gone home early."
Beth poured herself another glass of port. Despite the soft glow of the lamp, she looked older than her 35 years. Her hair was thin, unkempt, her features haggard and drawn, with huge dark shadows under the eyes.
"Maybe it's Jack the Ripper," she said. "Up to his tricks again."
This time it was Win who rose to her feet. Blonde, bright-eyed, and buxom, Win was one of the most popular girls in the area. In a good week, she could earn up to three times as much as Beth.
"You really think so, Beth? 'Cause I don't. In fact, I reckon there's more chance of me turning out to be Father Christmas!"
Beth shook her head, looking puzzled. "What in blazes are you goin' on about, girl?"
"You know as well as I do that Jack isn't prowling the streets, tonight. He's here, in this room."
Beth looked startled. "You're sayin' Dr. Amos is Jack the Ripper?"
Win did not answer straight away. Instead, she reached under the bed, behind the chamber pot, retrieving a long black overcoat, black hat, and black bag. After throwing the items onto the table, she opened the bag, revealing an assortment of surgical scalpels, pliers, and clamps.
"Look what I found while you were in jail, Beth."
"Well I'll be buggered!" Beth exclaimed. "Where did they come from?"
"You should know. You just saw me pull 'em out from under your bed."
"They're nothin' to do with me."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm bleedin' sure," Beth said. "Here, what is this? Are you accusin' me of lookin' after 'em for Jack the Ripper or something?"
"No, Beth. I'm saying you are Jack the Ripper."
Beth's laughter gave rise to a bout of coughing. After clearing her throat, she hawked into the fire before pointing a grubby finger at Dr. Amos. "More likely it was your lover boy who dumped 'em. Come to think of it, a lot of folk around these parts are sayin' Jack's a medical man."
"Then they're wrong," Win said.
"Oh yeah? How come?"
"Because," Win confided, "I know for a fact that you were in the Whitechapel area around the time of the murders. And not just once or twice, either. You were seen on all five occasions."
"Well, that's the daftest thing I've heard this year," Beth said. "What would I gain by killin' my own kind?"
"Money, that's what!" Win snapped back. "The fewer girls working the streets, the more pickings there'd be for an over the hill slag like you."
While the two women were arguing, Dr. Amos had moved away from the window, taking up a position himself directly behind Beth.
Feeling ill at ease, suspecting mischief, Beth tried to get up, but suddenly her stomach convulsed with pain. She couldn't move. "My God, what've you done to me?"
"Blame the port," Dr Amos told her. "Win laced it with poison."
Beth grimaced as she bent forward, the pain burning her intestines like a furnace. "Poison? You've poisoned me 'cause of a few bleedin' scrubbers?"
"That's right," Win retorted. "You see, the last girl you killed was Mary Kelly, my sister."
"Cut her up good and proper, didn't you? But then you went and got yourself jailed for something silly, and suddenly Jack disappears as well. For six glorious weeks we've had not a single killing. But now you're back on the streets, what's the betting the butchering will start all over again?"
"But the girls were raped," Beth hissed through gritted teeth, her face contorted in pain. "How could I have managed that, you bleedin' fool?"
Win picked up the overcoat from the table, withdrawing a small glass phial from a pocket. Even after six weeks the remnants of a creamy, off-white substance still stained its base.
"This," she said, waving it in front of Beth, "is what a man leaves behind when he's done fornicating. The stuff of life, I call it. Only in your case it's the stuff death, 'cause after butchering the girls you'd insert some into their bodies, so the police would think Jack's a man. Well, I'll tell you this, Beth; you'll never do it again."
Dr. Amos had his scalpel raised, ready for the signal. As if on queue, the distant pealing of church bells announced the arrival of Christmas Day. His face was expressionless as he placed his hand on Beth's forehead, tilting it back to expose her neck, using his other hand to scoop the scalpel across her jugular. Beth's short cry for help became a gurgled sob as blood jettisoned from the wound, squirting across the table and beyond in a pulsating rhythm of crimson.
Once the blood had slowed to a trickle, the doctor transferred the body to the bed. Then, crouching over the cadaver like a chef preparing food, he began cutting away the flesh from her face, chest, thigh, and ribcage, slashing her from rectum to breast bone, meticulously duplicating Mary Kelly's well-documented fate in every gory detail.
Standing back a little, Win observed the scene in complete silence, impressed at the depths of depravity the doctor would sink to make her happy. He was almost the perfect partner.
Almost, but not quite, she reminded herself. He'd barely raised a smile during their six-week courtship, let alone his manhood. Not that she was too bothered. Her punters were only too keen to make up for the doctor's failings. After all, she still had her looks; she could have sex ten times a day if that was what she wanted.
By the time Dr. Amos had finished there was blood and guts on the floor, the walls, the bed, and even on the ceiling. Moving away from the body, he straightened, his face still etched in concentration as a small object fell out of his trouser pocket, landing unbroken on the wooden boards. It was a glass phial, identical to the one Win still held in her hand.
At first Win was speechless; the look in her eyes worth a thousand words. When she eventually spoke, it was in a voice void of emotion. "You're Jack."
Still holding the scalpel, he said, "Now hang on a moment, Win. Let's not forget that killing Beth was your idea."
"Only 'cause I thought she was Jack!"
"But don't you see? Jack is all ready dead. He died six weeks ago, the moment I fell in love with you."
Win raised a hand to her mouth, the truth hitting like a hammer blow. "The same six weeks Beth spent locked up in jail."
His lips twisted into a smile, but there was no mirth in his cold eyes.
"Sheer coincidence," he admitted. "But it was damned useful. It had you fooled."
"You bastard!" she seethed. "First you butcher my sister, and now you kill my best friend. Why didn't you tell me you were Jack?"
The doctor laughed. "Confess everything and have you report me to the police? No fear! I love you, Win, but I'm nobody's fool."
Win was thinking fast. "I wouldn't have told anyone."
There was disbelief in his eyes. "Knowing that I'd killed your sister? I find that hard to believe. No, I would have been obliged to do you in as well; just to be on the safe side."
It crossed Win's mind that he was planning the same fate for her now. Desperate to gain more time, she said, "But why the phials? What was that all about?"
He looked away. "I thought you knew."
"I can't do those things that other men do. It's disgusting, degrading, and dirty. It's not right."
Win was amazed at the sheer hypocrisy of the man. "So, you can't bear to have sex with women, and yet you think nothing of slicing them into little pieces. My God! I've been with some sick bastards in my time, but I do believe I've heard it all, now."
Dr. Amos fell silent, as if deep in thought.
"Look," he said at last. "I may be many things, but I remain a man of my word. I solemnly swear to you that I will not kill again. Give me five minutes to destroy the evidence in this room and Jack will vanish forever. His disappearance will become the world's greatest mystery, leaving us free to marry, move away, and live happily ever after."
At last, Win could see a way out of this mess. She need not die in this room with Beth after all.
She spoke hesitantly. "You will… look after me?"
"Always," he promised. "I want us to be happy."
Win had heard enough. "Then do it. Destroy the evidence. Burn the place down."
Even as she spoke, she was making plans. During the weeks ahead she would choose her moment with care. Poisoning had been good enough for Beth; she'd make damned certain it would be good enough for the real Jack the Ripper.
The EndFurther information on Dave Cook and his first horror novel, A GIFT TO DIE FOR, can be found at www.dcook.co.uk
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